Thursday 18 to Saturday 20 September 2008, Sost to Islamabad
Kunjerab Pass was fantastic with mountain passes and vivid autumn colours. There was also snow and rain and it was cold. I was glad of Pieter's nice wool lined jacket.
Buying a visa at the border was no problem and the customs check was non existent for foreigners, in any case every one at customs knew who we were. Some Pakistanis were checked.
Sost was cool but not cold and it rained which is never pleasant. The van was fine. The only problem was the battery. It had been disconnected but had still run down completely. The problem was easily solved with jump leads
Next morning we started on the 962k drive to Islamabad. Everything went smoothly until Danyor. We had seen no warning but when we saw the bridge at Danyor we understood some of the grins of people pointing for us to go the other way. 25k back along the road there was a small 'Public Notice' in Urdu and English stating that the bridge was under construction and to go the normal way to Gilgit. Under construction is definitely no the correct description and where is the 'normal way'? There were no big diversion signs to warn us but there was a dirt track down to the bridge we had seen from the road. We crossed it and turned back along the river. Of course there was a truck just across the bridge which had broken down blocking the road. New tracks are made all the time to get around these obstructions! We found our way to Gilgit and after a good night's rest rejoined the main road.
The night spent at Sumernala, where Pieter has stopped several times, was unpleasant. I had a cold and was not feeling very well which made me crabby. A local band of children realised this and became very naughty. They would not leave us alone to the extent that when we were leaving they threw a stone which hit me. That really made me angry but the best response was to drive away. That set the tone of the day. Near the Swat Valley there were some aggressive gestures from locals, something we had never experienced before. Later we discovered that America had been bombing western Pakistan. I do wish they would kerb their desire to control the world's oil supplies, it would not stop the fighting and wars but would certainly reduce them.
We passed another overturned truck loaded with large wooden beams. The road was narrow and the edge on one side quite close. The solution was to clear the bushes against the mountain side. Luckily there was enough room for the other trucks to scrape through.
The last incident was when we were arriving into Islamabad. It was quite late and I heard a loud bang. Later we found out it was a bomb at the Marriot Hotel. The dead and injured were mainly Pakistani Muslims attending a meal to break the fast for the day. Why do people always kill their own countrymen? The Marriot was damaged but that just takes money to fix, which America can borrow from anywhere in the world. Just imagine how rich the world would be if America paid all it's debts. Then again many economies would collapse because they export so much to America. It is a Catch 22 situation, damned if you do, damned if you don't. In any case the real damage was done to the families of the dead Pakistanis, they will take time to recover from their loss both personal and financial if the chief breadwinner died. My sympathies go out to them.
Sunday 21 September to Friday 3 October 2008, Islamabad
Our time was spent catching up on e-mails, updating the website and chasing a new skylight for the van. This had been broken off by a low pole while Pieter was in India. The news from Australia was not good. Dad was in hospital with blood clots on his lungs and Carol, my sister, was very concerned.
I decided to go to Australia. I went to the travel agents on the Thursday afternoon and was told there would be a cheap flight on Saturday night via Dubai. I had to come back Friday as I didn't have my credit card with me only to be told that the flight from Dubai to Sydney was wait listed. There was no way I was going to hang around Dubai and hope for a seat. Anyway they searched around for something in the next two weeks. The only possibility was via Bangkok leaving at midnight, less than 12 hours away! It was a bit of a rush to e-mail my sister, pack and make sure I had everything I needed but I made it. It was such a pleasure to pack sleeveless tops, something I have not worn for ages as I did not take any to China and it is disrespectful to wear them in Muslim countries.
Saturday 4 October to Thursday 27 November 2008, Sydney, Australia
The plane trip to Sydney via Bangkok was as expected. I slept through the first flight and watched 2 films on the second flight.
I arrived expecting to have a tearful reunion and no-one was there to meet me! Knew it all happened too quickly. I waited a bit just in case they were late and then phoned directory enquiries. One thing I did not have was Carol's telephone number! Luckily Craig (Carol's son) was at home and said he would come and pick me up. Carol was on a cub camp for the weekend and had not read the e-mail so no-one knew I was arriving. Bruce, her husband, was also out but he arrived home in time to come with Craig. It is COLD here. October was the coldest October for 35 years. So much for sleeveless tops. I am wearing the few warm clothes I brought with me, plus some of Carol's warm underwear.
On Sunday Carol took me to see Dad. He did not look at all well. He had apparently improved greatly since the previous week but to me he looked very ill. He was starting to think he may return home at some stage. First he had to get much better, then he went into the rehab ward. Carol was on 2 weeks leave and we went to the hospital every day to visit.
Bruce feeds the Lorikeets every Saturday. They were great fun to watch
Dad was discharged on 17 October and I went to stay with him until he felt confident to once again live on his own. Two weeks after leaving hospital he had a skin cancer removed from his hand during day surgery. We were expecting a bandaged hand but he came out with a back plate on his hand and wrist. It was big enough to use as a spade to dig up the garden! The surgery set back his recovery so I decided to stay a little longer. After 6 weeks he was back to his usual perky self and once again self sufficient.
The hospital experience was quite different for me to the Chinese experience with Pieter. Firstly only the medical staff deal with patients. If you help and there is a problem you could be in big trouble. So it is very much hands off. There are visitors during visiting hours and also at other times. Visiting hours seem to be a guideline rather than set in concrete. But there are only 1 or 2 visitors per patient and they do not stay all day, usually about half an hour or so. All an indication of the closeness and number of family members between the 2 cultures.
I did manage to catch up on old friends that I had not seen since my last visit 8 years ago, plus one I last saw in SA 33 years ago! I also managed a trip up the Parramatta River on the ferry. It is a lovely way to see the upper reaches of the harbour. I chose one of the few warm days for the excursion. Carol and I went up to Watsons Bay towards the Heads as well. The weather was not as good, cold with the promise of rain. It was still a nice outing with lots of talk between sisters who rarely see each other.
I also celebrated 2 birthdays with my Australian family for the first time in over 30 years. My 61st in October and Dad's 97th in November. Time flies!
NB: Taxi drivers are the same the world over. Dad has a Pensioner taxi discount card. This allows him to pay part of the fare. The rest is paid by the government. Since his writing is not so good anymore he always asks the driver to complete the form which he then signs. One driver asked him to sign a blank form and was not very pleased when Dad insisted he complete the form. He obviously intended to insert an inflated amount!
In the meantime Pieter was bringing the Land Rover from Islamabad to Dhaka. Unfortunately he had major problems. On his way to Lahore the rod fell off the oil pump - a factory fault - we will see if they pay at least part of the cost of replacing the engine! He had a new engine fitted in Lahore. By the time he reached Delhi the turbo charger had given out. He had this disconnected and continued slowly to Kolkata. Here he had a new one sent from England and fitted. He will not be meeting me at the airport.
Note for budget travellers: My income allows me to travel through China and India staying in budget hotels and using public transport. On the same amount Pieter can travel in the van, barring major repairs such as a new engine. In Australia I can feed myself for a month OR hire a house for 1 week in Sydney. I could no doubt hire a place to stay more cheaply elsewhere in Australia as Sydney is the most expensive city, eating would not be possible though. Luxuries like clothing and transport are out of the question. I do not know the cost of a hotel room. This puts Australia up there in the countries that are not for budget travellers along with Europe, North America, Japan and Korea.
Friday 28 November to Monday 1 December 2008, Dhaka, Bangladesh
The flight went via Kuala Lumpur not Bangkok. This was good as Bangkok Airport was besieged by PAD (a pro democracy movement) supporters and apparently planes were neither coming nor going. Who knows where I would have ended up and when I would have arrived in Dhaka otherwise. I arrived at Dhaka airport in the early hours of Friday morning. Wonderful, from the cold with the occasional warmth of summer in Sydney to the warmth of winter in Dhaka. Back to short sleeves!
Having done some research on Thorn Tree I knew where I wanted to go and the price of a taxi. I bargained and got the price I wanted. There was the driver and the tout in the car. The tout kept rabbiting on about the taxi being an official vehicle and me being an ordinary tourist and filled out a form which he claimed was official paper work. Been there, done that. When he doubled the price once we arrived at the hotel I was very definite about not paying any extra - and I had the correct money so he couldn't claim lack of change! The night watchman for the hotel finally sent the tout on his way. The watchman found it all very amusing, especially my absolute refusal to give any extra.
The first day and night I slept. Then it was time for some sightseeing. I visited the Kella Lalbagh, a fort started by Prince Azam, son of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1678. Construction was abandoned in 1684. Unbeknownst to me Fridays and Saturdays are free. I'm glad because it is not overly interesting. The most fascinating aspect is it's use by young couples, not really touching each other but certainly talking without chaperone. The museum in the palace contained many flintlock and percussion rifles and guns with swords and metal armour from the 18th and 19th century.
I used a cycle rickshaw both ways. Dhaka is very definitely still in the era of manpower. There are cars, crowded buses and auto rickshaws but most of the transportation seems to be peddle power. Households are moved and goods (including garbage) transported by trailers attached to a bicycle or just pulled along by a man. The bicycle rickshaws are highly decorated as in Pakistan (but not India). The decorations include CDs that glint in the sun. Many of the auto rickshaws (run on gas) have cages for the driver. An indication of possible theft?
Pieter arrived late on Sunday evening, exhausted with the driving and traffic. He is used to traffic in Africa, Iran, Pakistan and India but says Bangladesh traffic is atrocious. Busses will bump you off the road if they want to! He needed a day of rest before we headed for Chitttagong.
Tuesday 2 December 2008, Chittagong
We arrived about lunch time and headed for the port looking for a shipping company. Luckily we found a man who could speak English. He passed us onto to another friend who finally passed us on to Clearing and Forwarding Agent and Mosharaf. Here we encountered the first problem. Bangladeshi customs at the border had waved Pieter through and after much discussion and perusal of the carnet had not signed the Carnet de Passages. Mosharaf took us to a lawyer who confirmed that it was not our fault. All he needed was a notarised copy of the Indian signatures on the Carnet, Our passports and Pieter's entry stamp into Bangladesh. By now it was too late to have the copies certified so we spent the night at the side of the road. The copies were certified by Customs officials next morning and we headed south to Cox's Bazaar as nothing would happen for a few days. This is the longest beach in the world, over 100k. We have to return to Chittagong by Saturday morning.
Wednesday 3 to Thursday 4 December 2008, Cox's Bazaar
The 200 kilometres took most of the day. Actual travel time was less than 4 hours over a good though narrow tarred road. It went through small villages and we had to constantly dodge peddle rickshaws, buses and people. Unfortunately we came across a riot and had to wait until the road was cleared. Medical students were fighting the government and local people about money. That was the best explanation we could get.
It was interesting to see all the markets where cattle and goats were being sold ready for the festival of Eid-ul-Azha. This is celebrated by slaughtering a cow or goat on the first morning of the festival and sharing the meat with family and the less fortunate. We have been told all businesses will close for 10 days from 9 December. I hope not. Last year in Islamabad they only closed for 4 days.
We passed lots of brick factories and rivers with barges filled to the brim with sand. One more shovel full and the barge would sink.
Cox's Bazaar is a typical beach resort. Hotels are being built by the hundreds, including a hotel right next door to ours. There are beach chairs going on for miles, horse rides and photographers for hire. Since this is a Muslim country everyone paddles in their clothes. The sea seems to be very shallow for a long way out so I doubt you could swim anyway. The restaurants all have seafood on the menu.
I read a newspaper and learnt that 20% of the Bangladesh landmass will be under water by 2050 due to the rising seas. Since families are large and the population is growing this will become a major problem. There are to be elections at the end of December to replace the caretaker government that replaced the military dictatorship. Comments in the newspaper were not very positive. It seems none of the politicians are worried about the ordinary people i.e. The increasing number of street boys who do not have a family that can afford to feed them, the number of fishermen trying to catch fish in a single area or the number of herders all grazing their cattle on the same space. The politicians are only interested in lining their pockets.
Friday 5 to Wednesday 10 December 2008, Chittagong
We had to meet Musharaf in Chittagong on Saturday, so left on Friday to ensure we were there on time. This time we found a nice place to park. It is in the yard of a transport business. There is washing water available, a bit green but OK for washing dishes etc. We get parked in every evening by the trucks and their trailers but there is a guard and we do not have people constantly watching us. Musharaf gave us some dates saying it would take a month to process everything beforewe could sail. He also asked for quite a large amount of money by Sunday afternoon. We agreed and went back to our parking space. A night of reflection made us realise that we really needed to do some extra research and not take the first option, especially because of the request for money without anything actually happening. We contacted PIL and some other shippers. The upshot was that because of the height of our unit we would need a flat track or open topped container. We had already been told this by Musharaf. The fly in the ointment was the absence of such things in Chittagong. Heavy machinery use flat tracks but not much such equipment came through Chittagong. There was one 20 ft flat track but it had already been allocated. It could take quite some time for one to become available. This made us decide not to pay over any money before we had a flat track or open container. Government closed from Monday 8th and would only open again on Sunday 14th. Businesses were setting their own holidays. Eid-ul-Azha was actually on Tuesday 9th.
We were warned that we would be totally locked in at the transport yard until Thursday if we stayed. We decided to do so. The time was used to do some cleaning inside the van. It gets very dusty and dirty because of the dusty, polluted atmosphere and had not had a clean up for months. The owner of the transport business also gave us a piece of beef from the cow he had slaughtered. It was a lovely soft piece of meat which Pieter cooked as a pot roast.
The time also allowed us to contemplate how we would go forward. Eventually it occurred to us that we could split the van from the Land Rover and use one 40ft or 2 20ft containers. We phoned PIL on Thursday morning expecting them to be open. They will not open until Sunday so we have more days of waiting.
Thursday 11 to Saturday 13 December 2008, Rangamati
This town is on Lake Kaptai and one of the scenic areas of Bangladesh in the Rangamati Hill Tracts. We headed out of town and finally arrived at the town of Kaptai. The town was quite small with some nice picnic spots but no hotel and no nice spot to stop. We were actually heading for Rangamati but somehow missed the road. We were told to go back to the town of Baraichari and turn north. This we did and ended up on a bad road through scenic hills. Eventually we came to a decent road and headed into Rangamati. The hotel was full due to the Eid holidays but a single room with a wide single bed was found for us. Oh well, we are used to sleeping in a narrow bed. This time our hotel was adding an extra floor, building was definitely in progress!
I visited the local Buddhist Temple. There are many women dressed in similar tribal dress to North East India. Not surprising as Mizoram, India is just over the hills.
Pieter and I went on a boat trip around Kaptai Lake. The lake was created by building the Kaptai Dam. It was a relaxing pleasant day. We went with 3 Singaporeans and 4 police guards. What the guards achieved I'm not sure, but some time ago a few foreigners were kidnapped in this area. The nearby section of India is quite volatile. The first stop was the Suvalong Waterfall, the furthest point out on the tour. Unfortunately this was dry. Lunch was on one of the small islands with a restaurant. There were quite a few of these places. We bought (as expected) lunch for the police, boatman and his son. Next stop was Pedating Ting Village, a tribal hill village. The headman had been educated in missionary schools and spoke excellent English. He felt that under West Pakistani rule things were not so bad but under Bangladesh rule the tribal people were being ignored. His main complaints were the creation of the dam with the subsequent loss of arable land and poor education because teachers did not want to come to remote areas. He has a point but Bangladesh itself is very poor and very few are educated. Naturally the missionaries would have been Christian and not tolerated under the Muslim government. I am surprised the West Pakistani Government tolerated Christian Missionaries but there are still some in Pakistan. By this stage it was getting late and the next stop Tuk Tuk Eco Village consisted of uninspiring walks through natural vegetation. After a very short stop we headed to the Hanging Bridge. This is a short modern pedestrian suspension bridge. We didn't bother to stop. All of us have seen better ones and actually take them for granted. Last stop was Raja Vihara a Buddhist Monastery and the resident of the former king of the area. The king was in Dhaka and there was little to see except stalls selling cloth. Time to return to the hotel.
Then the negotiations started - baksheesh for the police! Malcolm said it beautifully 'Guarding foreigners is part of their job, we did not ask for them, surely to give a tip is corruption?'
Sunday 14 to Tuesday 16 December 2008, Chittagong
It was not a long drive back to Chittagong. We went straight to PIL with our new idea of using a 40ft HiCu container (i.e. 9ft 6 inches high rather than the standard 8ft 6 inches). Within a short while we had been introduced to A2Z as the clearing agent, negotiated a price for his services and organised to have our van put into a container the next day. Wow the speed when you go standard!
Monday we went to the container yard and disconnected the Land Rover from the van. The Land Rover went in very easily. Then the problems started. Pieter had measured the van plus the extended legs and thought it would be low enough. We had to have the legs extended in Holland because of the height of the Land Rover cabin. Unfortunately it was too high. So the extensions had to be taken off. This did not seem like a problem if they had a long enough fork lift to go under the sleeping area (which normally goes over the cabin) and still go far enough under the van to support it. No dice the fork lift was just not long enough. They had to go in from the back. BUT there is a blue box at the back which contains the cooking gas bottles and the fork lift could not use that to support the van, too flimsy. After much discussion the crew went and found 8 old tyres. The fork lift was placed under the van from the back, the tyres places in 4 piles on the forks. Two so that they just missed the blue box and the other 2 at the end of the forks. The van could then be lifted supported by the tyres, the extension legs removed and the van placed in the container. The whole operation took 4 hours.
We were exhausted from worry by the time the container was locked in. By now it was too late to finalise the paper work with PIL (shipping charges) but we did finalise the paperwork with A2Z (lashing, labour, port costs and the A2Z service charge). Then it was off to a hotel for 2 nights. The 16th is Liberty Day, a public holiday to celebrate liberation from West Pakistan in 1971. Naturally a lot of businesses would be closed, including PIL and travel agents. I managed to get to an agent at 5:00 just on closing. They were willing to sort out the tickets to Singapore for Wednesday and to wait while I found an ATM to withdraw a deposit. Tuesday we sorted out bus tickets to Dhaka. This took quite a bit of running around as there are two places to buy tickets. One is the main bus station where the buses are not air-conditioned and all that goes with such buses (crowded with people and luggage, rickety, badly scratched, possible engine failure etc etc etc). The other is a set of offices where you can get air conditioned luxury bus tickets. Naturally we went to the wrong place first as we were looking for lots of buses not just a set of offices. Eventually we bought the tickets and checked where we had to go to catch the bus. Easy, you go to the office and a shuttle bus takes you to the actual special bus station! No wonder we didn't see any buses!
The timings should work out well. We have until about 11:30 to finalise the air tickets and PIL. The bus leaves at 12:30 and arrives in Dhaka 6 hours later. Then a 1.5 hour tuk tuk ride from the bus station to the airport to catch the 4 hour flight to Singapore at 23:00. Thursday will be a write-off.
Wednesday 17 December 2008, Dhaka
The timings went as expected, except the tuk tuk ride was only 45 minutes. Goodbye to Bangladesh and the Indian sub-continent.
|Cost per litre diesel||7.40||48||0.75|
|Bus per kilometer||0.46||3||0.05|
|Hotels per night (2 people)||147.25||955||14.88|
|Days in country||20|